Reassignments Under the ADA

By James Hatch

Oct. 16, 2007

Bernard Lehman was hired to work for U.S. Steel at its Dravosburg, Pennsylvania, plant to do mechanical maintenance work, and in 2004 was assigned as a rail tractor driver. After he began those job duties, Lehman discovered he had arthritis, and his symptoms worsened.

    Lehman received chiropractic treatments and was told that his arthritis was being aggravated by the constant jarring of the rail tractor. His doctor recommended that Lehman indefinitely not work with heavy equipment that affected his neck and back. After reviewing a doctor’s note from Lehman, U.S. Steel’s doctor evaluated him and concluded that he could work, but should not drive a rail tractor.

    U.S. Steel removed Lehman from the work schedule until he could drive a tractor and placed him on involuntary leave. After filing a union grievance, Lehman was returned to work in a non-driving position that did not aggravate his arthritis, but only several weeks after he was placed on involuntary-leave status.

    Lehman filed suit against U.S. Steel, contending that the company violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and had failed to reasonably accommodate his disability by refusing to reassign him to a job consistent with his medical conditions.

    A U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania denied U.S. Steel’s motion for summary judgment and agreed that Lehman’s arthritis substantially limited the performance of major life activities. With regard to his claim that U.S. Steel had refused to accommodate his condition, the district court noted that, while Lehman was eventually permitted to return to work to a job that did not aggravate his condition, a jury could conclude that the company could have reassigned him to another available position before placing him on involuntary leave. Lehman v. U.S. Steel Corp., WD Pa., No. 05-1479 (9/17/07).

    Impact: Employers are advised to promptly determine if reasonable accommodations may exist for disabled employees, including reassignments to vacant positions.

Workforce Management, October 8, 2007, p. 10Subscribe Now!

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